Defending champs back for Hansa Fish record bid

Words: Nick Tatham | Photos: Jon Vellacott/ Gameplan Media

The Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon has been bolstered by the news that triple K2 champions Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt have confirmed that they will be back to defend their title as McGregor attempts to claim a record fifth back-to-back doubles title.

The Hansa Fish this year will take place the weekend after the World Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, which means that the best paddlers in the country will be under a lot of pressure to recover from the rigors of travel and the World Championships.


McGregor and van der Walt really backed their chances of challenging for the world K2 title, however their chances were dashed after they had a disastrous SA trial and didn’t make the team, but this has given them an opportunity to be even better prepared for the Hansa Fish this year because they can get out of Copenhagen before everyone else.


“We are going to high-tail it out of Copenhagen after our K1 races on Saturday afternoon and head for home,” said McGregor. “It is going to buy us an extra critical 24 hours over the other guys to recover, shake off the jetlag and get down to Cradock for the Hansa Fish.”


It’s a race where McGregor and Van Der Walt are at their best because they are relaxed and thrive in the vibe of the unique two-day race in the Klein Karoo.


“It’s got to be the best race in the country,” says McGregor. “You can tell because it is the one race on the calendar that everyone is willing to drive to.” “It is also the fairest race of the year,” he added.


McGregor, who has a fascination with records, first won the Fish K2 title with Len Jenkins in a record breaking effort in 2006. In 2008 he was back but with teenager Grant van der Walt in the boat and they stroked their way to the first of three K2 titles on the trot.


“Hey, if we can win it again this year it will be four consecutive K2 titles for Grant (van der Walt) and I, and five in succession for me, which no-one has ever done before,” said McGregor.


No matter how they do at the World Marathon Champs – McGregor has won the senior title twice and Grant van der Walt the U23 title twice - there is no doubt about which crew is the one to beat at this year’s race.


In 2011 they lowered the race K2 record to 4:40:38, and you can be sure that they will have that target in their sights this year as well.


For decades the Hansa Fish has hosted more SA River Championship title deciders than any other race for a few simple reasons. It is a test of stamina and endurance (the first stage is a tough 48km long), has enough technical challenges in trees, big rapids, swirlies, wave trains and weirs, and a fair dose of flatwater racing where traditional marathon racing tactics come to the fore.


“The top paddlers are always there and the racing is guaranteed to be super-competitive. The guaranteed water release makes a huge difference as well.”


McGregor proudly stepped up to claim his Coelacanth certificate in 2011, the year he broke the race record with van Der Walt, clearly placing a lot of importance on joining the club of paddlers that have done ten Fishes. This year both he and Van Der Walt will take that tally to 12. Of the eleven McGregor has done he has won five, including a mixed doubles win with Donna Winter, putting him right up there with the “Fisher King” Len Jenkins.


While the defending champions have made their intentions clear for the race, the rest of the elite paddlers are still fairly undecided and few have confirmed partners for the two day classic in Cradock that starts on 27 September.


“I will be there every year,” he added. “Unless something really serious comes up, like having to give birth.”


The Hansa Fish River Canoe marathon takes place on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September. More information can be found at